First, the obligatory give-credit-where-credit’s-due: The Kings played a solid game and made things difficult in their own zone.
OK, that said, the Islanders did not generate nearly enough chances until very late in the third period of Thursday night’s 3-2 loss at UBS Arena. They did not get good enough goaltending and they continued to struggle against teams holding a playoff spot as they started a stretch of four games in six days leading into the All-Star break.
"They played a pretty stingy game," Anders Lee said. "There wasn’t a whole lot either way. Our push, it was there. We just didn’t put the puck in the net."
"We hit a post, both of our defensemen," coach Barry Trotz said. "Those go in, it’s a totally different game. L.A. had nothing tonight. They really didn’t have much. They defended well."
It spoiled the return of Kyle Palmieri, who was activated off injured reserve after missing 10 games with a lower-body issue. He took two shots in 13:12 on Brock Nelson’s right wing but extended his skid without a point to 12 games as he played instead of Kieffer Bellows.
Semyon Varlamov made 27 saves but allowed at least one questionable goal — possibly two — for the sixth-place Islanders (15-15-6). They fell to 2-13-2 in games against the 16 teams currently holding a playoff position and have been outscored 58-26 in those games.
They’ve alternated wins and losses the past four games as they hover at NHL .500.
"When we were in the hole, I think .500 was a benchmark that we looked at and we were able to get there," defenseman Scott Mayfield said (the Islanders were 5-10-5 on Dec. 5). "Yeah, it’s been tough. Get one game ahead and then right back to it. That’s not what we want. We have to put something together here."
Cal Petersen stopped 23 shots for the Kings (22-16-6), third in the Pacific Division. Mathew Barzal spoiled his shutout bid with a shot from the left boards through Lee’s screen at 17:56 of the third period with Varlamov pulled for an extra skater. Adrian Kempe’s empty-netter with 35.5 seconds left made it 3-1 and Casey Cizikas capped the scoring with 19.3 seconds remaining.
It didn’t help that Varlamov allowed a back-breaking goal in the final seconds of a period for the second time in three games.
Andreas Athanasiou, in his first game since Dec. 14, made it 2-0 with 5.1 seconds left in the second period on a sharp-angle shot from the left boards that flew over the unscreened Varlamov’s glove.
"Unlike both our goalies, they’ve given up a little bit of a weak goal for them," said Trotz, also referring to Claude Giroux’s sharp-angle shot off Ilya Sorokin’s pad in the opening minute of the Islanders’ 4-3 win over the Flyers on Tuesday.
"Our margin of error, we’re usually in a one-goal game. That could be the difference between winning and losing. I’m not too concerned because I’ve seen them play over a pretty good sample size. But I’m sure Varly would like to have one back tonight at the end of the period. Those are a little bit deflating."
The Islanders trailed 1-0 after a first period in which the Kings had a 9-3 shot advantage. Quinton Byfield notched his first career goal, beating Varlamov over his glove from a sharp angle along the left boards at 17:05.
The Islanders had a couple of notable chances. Adam Pelech hit the crossbar at 5:46.
Robin Salo hit the crossbar on a second-period power play.